[Graphics] how-to Pt.1

Submitted By: Buster's Uncle Date: February 20, 2012, 05:08:47 PM Views: 615


If creating/modifying graphics doesn’t interest you I doubt this will.

My specific examples are from Alpha Centauri, but most of the techniques, and all of the comments about the thinking behind the artistic process and decisions should be universally applicable.  The THINKING, in fact, is the main thing in this old article that is still useful.

My first purpose here is to give potential graphics guys a leg up, so I have to go into torturous detail to be really helpful, as I don’t know what they do or do not already know how to do. I don’t have a sophisticated graphics set-up at all, and do a lot the hard way in simple, common programs, but that makes it more universal, albeit perhaps often extraneous to someone with PhotoshopUltimateSuper 2020.  (Also note that if you have Windows7, most of the comments about MS Paint no longer apply, but many of the techniques will still work in other programs.)

You have been warned.

So, while working on the New Vikings (an alt. Pirates faction) today, I started a little status report with a name suggestion to send Darsnan, but things went pretty smoothly, and it turned into running notes to send with the graphic instead…

It occurred to me that a few months (years now) ago while I was a lurker looking for information about various things I wanted to learn to do, I would have loved it if someone had posted about their creation process in really boring detail, naming programs used and tools, and what-not.

And I thought that the bulk of the email [with the blow-by-blow I didn’t waste Darsnan’s time on added in brackets] would make a start.

So I’m going to try to describe the entire actual creation of an faction graphic- we’re in for a long post(s)...

I hope my process will be at least of some interest to any other artists currently active, too- and that they’ll feel free to do the same, and also post articles on any miscellaneous graphics issue they want.


[Darsnan had suggested a name, Ulrik Magnussen, that sounded, not Finnish to me, but Norwegian. (Graphics stuff is coming- it’s all connected, anyway.)]

A Finnish name site was first hit when I looked. Because the original subject of the portrait I’d chosen was apparently named Jim, I chose a j name, Jali (yahlee), for no Jim-looking equivalent at hand, its exoticness and that it doesn’t sound as much like a chick’s name as many on that list.

Magnus was first in the M’s, so I’d say Jali Magnus was a lock, if you’ve nothing to add. Easy to remember, spell and type, too. 

[I’d already cranked up the contrast in Photoshop on the bases he’d sent me this morning .

[They were Network Node’s work, and like a lot of his bases, pretty and well-designed, but to my eye, too pastel-looking to look realistic in the game.

[(Looking at it over a year later, I should have gone to the trouble to clean up all those light pixels around the edges of the bases. They really stand out when you zoom in; small details are important if you want to do good work.

[(In fact, I now think I really muffed fixing up on this set; if I did it over, I‘d zoom in tight and do something about all the speckle-y highlight-and-dark bits all over the base {which cranking up the contrast made even worse} with careful use of the smudge tool to smooth out the flat surfaces to let the details and lines of the base stand out more - tedious work, one pixel at a time, but again, attention to detail is everything in good art.)

[Then I selected the lot and pasted them into the copy of the whole Pirates .pcx I’d previously pasted into MS Paint. I use paint for this because it’s not something Photoshop 5 is any good for- Paint lets you move your paste around before you drop it.  GIMP is good for that, though, and if you have Windows7, you can no longer do this in Paint - no “Draw Opaque“ function anymore.

[Then I opened the blank .pcx (you can get it here) with the empty AC graphics boxes that Maniac had posted sometime in the past in Photoshop (all I began using Photoshop for was opening and saving, and did all the work pasting back and forth between Paint and Lexmark Photo Editor, which complement each other nicely used this way- if either did color manipulation I’d have never gone to the trouble to learn how to use Photoshop). I zoomed on the datalink leaderhead box and selected/copied it. I switched to a second copy of Paint in which was waiting the portrait I’d prepared. (A blow-by-blow of that kind of thing is enough for its own post later.)

[I pasted in the box from blankpcx.pcx, right-clicked the sample tool in the middle to make the .pcx’s background color this copy of Paint’s background color. I then turned off “Draw Opaque” and hit [Ctrl]z to undo and make the purple-filled box go away. I then [Ctrl]w-ed to resize the image- there were several minutes of trial and error before I found 55% to be ideal for getting what I wanted of the figure to fit in the diplomacy box at what I judged was a good size for the game - ideally you want to get the figure somewhere roughly about the size in the frame of the official factions. So now I had the picture in front of me sized like I wanted with the box it had to fit in around it- I selected what was inside the box and [Ctrl]c-ed. Now it was time for the scan lines.

[(Note the change to the collar. I've erased more lapels than you'd believe to make clothes look a little more futurey. This image didn't need much work, though.)

[I think I’ve now spent more time preparing this essay than I did assembling the faction graphic- I’m going to post this much and continue later.

[Next up: manual scan-lines with an old edition of Photoshop that lacks an automatic function to do it for me. I’ll probably describe how to do it the really hard way with only Paint and any program that will adjust contrast, too.]

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